God! Enough of the Military Rabbinate
Friday afternoon, at the entrance to Tel Aviv's Carmel Market.
The thousands of people crowding in to the narrow streets run up against young soldiers manning booths where they are vigorously urging passersby to join them in their religious rites, in this case, the Jewish religion.
One might ask how the Israeli military which is so proud of the 332 Christians and 1,100 Muslims serving in its ranks, would respond were a soldier to invite civilians to pray to Jesus or to Mohammed.
The Carmel Market activists, Intelligence Corps recruits under the ultimate command of Maj. Gen Amos Yadlin, say they are acting with the approval of the commander of their training base in southern Israel.
Asked to comment, the army promised to check into the matter after the Shabbat. The military expressed skepticism at the account but did not appear particularly upset by another rip in the partition between religion and state, between religion and the army.
This is not America.
It's not Arlington, or Normandy, or any national cemetery where Jews are buried alongside Christians. Here, if a soldier who sacrificed his life for Israel is not sufficiently Jewish the rabbis will try to force him into a different area, far away and fenced in.
The chief military rabbi is supposed to serve as the shock absorber for religion in the army but often he's the one causing the shocks.
After hearing of the appointment of reserve Lt. Col. Rafi Peretz to the post, the families of Gil Tzuriano and Assaf Rosenberg, members of Airborne Rescue And Evacuation Unit 669 who died in a 1992 accident in which Peretz was involved as a helicopter pilot, protested the choice.
Peretz founded and ran a pre-army military academy in the Gaza Strip settlement of Atzmona, moving it to the Negev after the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza,
Peretz did not refuse, he is against refusal, when offered a return to the career army and a promotion by two ranks, to brigadier general.
It is a certificate of shame, worthy of being hung next to his rabbinical diploma: For the third straight time in the same decade the IDF has admitted its failure to cultivate a cadre of leaders in the Military Rabbinate.
First, two colonels were disqualified and a lieutenant colonel, Yisrael Weiss, was promoted over them. After Weiss, Col. Avihai Rontzki was recalled from reserve duty. He, like Weiss, did not manage to groom a worthy successor from the ranks of his officers.
This is one more reason to get rid of the Military Rabbinate, in addition to the religious politics that have affected the selection of the chief military rabbi since the era of Shlomo Goren, the first IDF officer to be promoted to major general as a personal rank rather than in accordance with the career path.
Religious services can be provided to the army by Defense Ministry officials - civil servants, not officers in uniform - even to troops on active service, just as units needing intelligence support in the territories are aided by the Shin Bet security service, which is not part of the Israel Defense Forces.
In defending its appointment of Peretz as chief military rabbi despite the Unit 669 incident, the IDF, as usual, looked toward the passage of time. Indeed, it is appropriate to ask whether a ban should be forever.
The army cares more about carrying out assignments than about law or morality. For example, in its desperate search for driving instructors who will agree to enlist, it is willing to admit those whose licenses were suspended in the past, including drivers who were convicted of offenses that caused traffic accidents - as long as they were not in the past two years.
Someone who was convicted two years and a day ago, or who was convicted of three moving offenses within a year and a week, but not within a single year? Wonderful, the IDF wants you in the standing army so you can pass on the heritage to the next generation of young drivers in the army.
The personal issue regarding Peretz is marginal and solvable.
Eighteen years should be enough to burnish his record. That is exactly the length of time separating the defense minister who was forced out of office after Sabra and Chatila from the prime minister, Ariel Sharon. But if we don't want the IDF turning into a religion stall in the Carmel Market, the Military Rabbinate must be dismantled.